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Death Penalty Trial Begins for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

The Government gave its opening statement today in the death penalty trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Live updates are here. At the end of her opening, the prosecutor giving the opening displayed a screengrab of a security camera video of Tsarnaev in his cell raising his middle finger to the camera. It hasn't been admitted into evidence, so there isn't a copy, but the media reports it was taken a year ago and shows his face was scarred and he was very angry.

The defense deferred their opening until the start of their case. Several witnesses testified as to their injuries in graphic detail. Victim impact testimony in these cases is always horrific. Over defense objection, the judge admitted a video of one victim on the ground, with constant blood curdling screams. [More...]

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Tsarnaev Jury to Begin Deliberations in Guilt Phase

The alternates in the Boston Marathon Bombing trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were disclosed today after closing arguments. The 12 jurors deciding his fate include 7 women and 5 men.

In closings today, the Government said Jahar and Tamerlan were partners and Jahar wanted to punish America. Reporter Jim Armstrong of WBZ in Boston has a lot of quotes from both side's closings on his twitter feed here.

Judy Clarke agreed Jahar committed the bombings, but focused on the different roles of the brothers. [More...]

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Tsarnaev Trial Start Delayed, New Battle Over Venue

Dzhokhar Tsarnav's defense team filed a third motion to change venue yesterday. They provided a lot of statistics and quotes from the voir dire process so far to show Tsarnaev cannot get a fair trial in Boston.

In the filing Thursday, the lawyers said questionnaires filled out by 1,373 prospective jurors from Eastern Massachusetts show that 85 percent of them either believe Tsarnaev is guilty, have some self-identified connection to the case, or both.

“There is now no doubt that these emotions are deep, that they linger, and they are peculiar to and permeate the entire Eastern Division,” of Massachusetts, the lawyers argued, adding that 68 percent of the jury pool believes Tsarnaev is guilty “before hearing a single witness or examining a shred of evidence at trial.”

[More...]

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Jury Selection in Tsarnaev Trial and Comparisons

Update: Tsarnaev's defense team has now requested a continuance due to the Paris shootings.

Boston Magazine has an interesting interview with Stephen Jones, lead trial counsel for Timothy McVeigh, "Tale of Two Trials" on similarities and differences in McVeigh's case and that of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

On jury selection, he raises the issue of the "stealth juror."

The federal courts, in my opinion, engage in a fiction. The fiction is — and some sincerely believe it, but I think nevertheless it’s a fiction — that once the juror takes an oath as a juror that their personality and character sort of changes and now they recognize this tremendous responsibility on them. I’ve not found that to be true.

What I’ve found is that the more notorious the case is, or the greater the publicity, jurors campaign to be on the jury so they can be a part of history, and that was certainly the case in Mr. McVeigh’s jury.

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Appeals Court Rejects Tsarnaev Request for Trial Delay

Update: It should be pointed out that the only thing happening Monday is that those summoned for jury duty will fill out a questionnaire. The court and lawyers will review them for a week or so. The jurors will be given a phone number to call which will tell them whether they have been excused or should appear on a certain date for further participation, or should call back at some other time. What most people think of as the trial (opening statements, testimony, etc) is not expected to begin before the end of January according to pleadings filed in the case.

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Jury selection will begin Monday as scheduled in the trial of Dzhokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev. The First Circuit Court of Appeals today denied his Petition for a Writ of Mandamus which sought a change of venue, or an order compelling the trial judge to stay jury selection and hold an evidentiary hearing on his request for a change of venue. (Background here.) The four page decision is here. One judge dissented, and would have granted the application. [More....]

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Tsarnaev Defense Seeks Venue Change From Appeals Court

Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, accused of the Boston Marathon bombings. Yesterday, hours after the trial court refused its most recent request for a continuance, the defense filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the First Circuit Court of Appeals requesting a change of venue, or in the alternative, an order compelling the trial judge to hold an evidentiary hearing on its change of venue motion. You can read it here. It also filed a motion in the trial court requesting that jury selection be delayed until the appeals court has ruled.

The petition makes several references to the ruling of Judge Matsch in the OKC bombing case of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols (available here.) Judge Matsch rejected the Government's arguments that a fair trial could be held outside of OKC, but still in Oklahoma. He ruled a fair trial was not possible anywhere in the state of Oklahoma, and moved the trial to Denver. [More...]

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Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Seeks Trial Delay

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's lawyers are asking for a trial delay, primarily due to last minute document dumps by the Government, as well as new expert witness disclosures. The Government opposes the delay. I've uploaded the defense motion here and the Government's motion here. (Addresses and phone numbers of defense counsel redacted.) From the Defense motion:

The size of the witness list:

On December 15, the government provided a witness list (comprised of 590 “law enforcement personnel” and 142 “civilian witnesses”) and an exhibit list (naming 1,238 exhibits and an additional 413 “files contained on digital exhibits”).

On the recent document dumps: [More...]

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Azamat Tazhayakov Testifies Against Robel Phillipos

Hoping to get a lower sentence when he is sentenced for obstruction of justice, Azamat Tazhayakov testified against his friend Robel Philippos yesterday. Phillipos is charged with making false statements to the FBI. Initially, the FBI says, he lied about being in the dorm room. Then it claims he lied about the actions of his two friends, Azamat and Dias Kadyrbayev, who were present in the dorm room, with respect to what he saw and heard later at their apartment. Tsarnaev had already been named a suspect at the time, and his photo had been released to the media. Twitter has more coverage from reporters who were live-tweeting from the courtroom. They don't seem to have used a uniform hashtag -- a search within Twitter for Robel brings most of them up.

Phillipos defense is he was so stoned on pot he didn't remember events well enough to accurately recount them. Azamat, convicted in July, testified Phillipos didn't seem all that stoned. He did confirm that Robel had smoked pot several times that night and the next morning.

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Tsarnaev Friend's Trial Opens with Stoner Defense

Opening arguments began today in the trial of Robel Phillipos, the third friend of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to be charged with a crime related to the removal of items from Tsarnaev's dorm room after Tsarnaev was identified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings.

He is charged with making false statements to the FBI. His defense: He was "stoned out of his mind."

Friend Azamat Tazhayakov was found guilty of obstruction of justice at a trial in July; Dias Kadyrbayev pleaded guilty to obstruction in August. Neither have been sentenced yet. A fourth friend, Steven Silva, is awaiting trial on gun charges.

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Azamat Tazhayakov Convicted of Obstruction of Justice and Conspiracy in Boston

Azamat Tazhayakov has been found guilty of Obstruction of Justice and Conspiracy as to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's backpack, but not his laptop.

Juror Daniel Antonino told reporters the jury believed the laptop had been taken "because it was valuable, plain and simple," and not to influence the investigation.

The defense will appeal. Among other things, they say Azamat was prejudiced by the split verdict form.

Moral of the story: Don't talk to the Feds without a lawyer. Our prisons are filled with people who thought if they could only tell their side of the story, the cops would see it their way. It rarely happens. Ask for a lawyer immediately and don't talk until you've consulted one. [More...]

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Verdict Watch: Azamat Tazhayakov Jury Deliberations

From the last question asked by jurors deliberating the fate of Azamat Tazhayakov, it appears they are close to a verdict.

During opening arguments, Tazhayakhov's lawyer asked them to "give the kid a shot." Did they? Stay tuned.

Here's the court's verdict form. It mispells Dzhokhar. Here's the five page verdict form the Government wanted.

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Obstruction Trial Begins for Tsarnaev's Friend Azamat Tazhayakov

In opening arguments today in the trial of Azamat Tazhayakov, one of the two friends of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice Azamat's lawyer, Nicholas Woolridge, told the jury, "I hope you give this kid a shot."

Woolridge also told the jury that it was Dias Kadyrbayev,who will be tried at a later date, who took the backback from Jahar's dorm room back to their apartment, and that it was Dias' girlfriend, who will testify under a grant of immunity from prosecution, who told Dias to get rid of it. Woolridge said Dias only told Azamat about getting rid of the backpack after the fact. [More...]

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Tsarnaev Trial: Change of Venue Request

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has requested a change of venue to Washington, D.C. The judge has not yet ruled on the motion.

Since Mass. does not have a death penalty, many thought the defense would prefer to have the trial there, notwithstanding the pretrial publicity. But the expert surveys conducted by the defense showed Mass. residents presumed Tsarnaev guilty in greater numbers than residents of other places:

Attorneys said they had enlisted an expert to survey public opinion in four cities: Boston, Springfield, Mass., New York City and Washington. Respondents were asked a series of questions, including whether they believed Tsarnaev was "definitely guilty, probably not guilty or definitely not guilty" of the April 2013 bombings that left three dead and more than 260 wounded.

In Boston, 58% said they believed Tsarnaev was definitely guilty, as did 52% in Springfield and 48% in Manhattan. Only 37% in Washington said the same.

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Tsarnaev: Judge Slams Govt's Attempt to Use "Betrayal of US" as Aggravating Factor

The federal judge in the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev case has denied the Government's request to include "betrayal of the U.S." as an aggravating factor in the penalty phase of his trial, calling the attempt "highly inappropriate."

Federal prosecutors have argued, in part, that Tsarnaev, now 20, deserves the death penalty because he betrayed his allegiance to the country that granted him asylum and, later, citizenship.

The defense countered with:

"(I)n not one of the 492 cases before Mr. Tsarnaev's has the government cited the fact of a defendant's American citizenship, the way he became a citizen, any aspect of his immigration history, or his enjoyment of the freedoms of an American citizen as a reason to sentence him to death,"

The Judge ruled it was "highly inappropriate" for prosecutors to draw a distinction between a "naturalized" and "natural-born" U.S. citizen.[More...]

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Government Releases Tsarnaev's Scrawled Boat Note

The Government responded to several of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's motions today. In its response to his motion to suppress statements, it reprinted what Jahar has scrawled while hiding inside the boat:

I’m jealous of my brother who ha[s] [re]ceived the reward of jannutul Firdaus (inshallah) before me. I do not mourn because his soul is very much alive. God has a plan for each person. Mine was to hide in this boat and shed some light on our actions. I ask Allah to make me a shahied (iA) to allow me to return to him and be among all the righteous people in the highest levels of heaven. He who Allah guides no one can misguide. A[llah Ak]bar!

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